It was only a couple of years ago that digital marketers were scratching their heads, wondering what to do about Twitter. Those brands that were using the social media platform were tweeting behind-the-scenes information about their products or answering customer questions. In its role as a component of a bigger cross-media campaign, however, Twitter was small potatoes.
Not so anymore. Marketers have since found innumerable ways to work Twitter into their promotional strategies, to the point where it's displacing (or replacing) more traditional techniques. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the marketing strategy exhibited by Lionsgate for the film "The Hunger Games," based on author Suzanne Collins' literary trilogy by the same name. Here are three of the ways the entertainment company is using Twitter to stoke the excitement of fans.
1. An app that tells a story. One of the tried and true techniques of marketing a film online is to build an application that offers consumers the opportunity to feel as though they have a place within the film's fictional environment. Warner Bros.'s "Harry Potter" films sorted online fans into Hogwarts houses and, later, helped them to find their Patronus. Sony's "2012" invited them to register for their place within the "Survival Lottery."
In the case of "The Hunger Games," consumers are invited to create a District Identification Pass. The process of customizing it places them in an assigned district and also provides them with a related occupation (each district is associated with a specialization, like mining or transportation). Fans first learned of the app last August when a televised sneak peak of the film included Twitter hashtag #whatsmydistrict.
Half a year later, the unique ID passes can still be created by linking to existing Twitter or Facebook accounts, or by way of a mobile device, and shared through all three channels along with Google+ and Tumblr. As a first form of interaction with the film, the interactive app is a highly effective way of engaging users.
2. Campaigning for online attention. Those familiar with "The Hunger Games" books know that besides having a specialization, each district in the futuristic nation of Panem has its own mayor. To deepen users' existing interaction with the film, marketers leveraged this aspect of the story by inviting those who had created a District Identification Pass to participate in a web-based mayoral election. Once they had "liked" their district Facebook page, users could visit "The Square" section of the page (another reference to the books) and begin to solicit votes from other online users.
As if actively establishing residency in the film's fictional world wasn't enough, this campaign feature takes user involvement to another level. Through these mayoral races, marketers can flush out the most loyal fans and turn them into advocates of the film. Participants get the excitement of feeling as though there's a distinct place for them in the story, while "The Hunger Games" gains additional exposure as generated by participants' efforts to crusade online (discount the fact that district mayors don't actually fare so well in "The Hunger Games" plot and you have a win-win situation for all involved).
3. Pieces of social media. Online games are popular among entertainment companies eager to boost engagement, but to date few marketers have ventured to hang their hats on Twitter as a distribution channel. This was not the case with Lionsgate. With 100 days to go until the film's release, the company created a new movie poster and split it into 100 virtual puzzle pieces. The pieces were then handed over to 100 different sites that posted them on their Twitter feeds.
Those who took the time to participate in #TheHungerGames100 Poster Puzzle Hunt had a fair amount of work on their plates: besides searching for the puzzle pieces on Twitter using the designated hashtag, they had to print the pieces or transfer them to Photoshop in order to assemble them, and produce a photo of the resulting image. Once finished, they were invited to post the puzzle image to Facebook and tag "The Hunger Games" official movie page. Only then would the new poster be released to the public at large.
The puzzle trended on Twitter, but "The Hunger Games" also benefited from the ensuing consumer-generated images and Facebook tags. As much as consumers are excited by a promotional concept, they're typically more affected by the realization that other consumers just like them are putting forth so much effort to interact with it.
Each unique new digital campaign designed to promote a Hollywood blockbuster film raises the bar not just for other entertainment studios, but for brands in general. As "The Hunger Games" makes its debut, the extent to which these tactics worked remains to be seen, but the ways in which the campaign utilized Twitter begs the question: are you making the most of this social medium, too?
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.